Paths to modernity

The new conception of the permanent exhibition from the french revolution to world war I

Project duration
: 2010 – 2012
Project sponsorship: Leibniz-Gemeinschaft (Leibniz Association) within the framework “Pakt für Forschung und Innovation” (“Pact for Research and Innovation”)

The Germanisches Nationalmuseum has extensive holdings from the time of the French Revolution until the end of World War I. Almost each department contains objects from the long 19th century. The museum’s permanent exhibition can only show a fraction of these holdings, which will be displayed within the respective departmental contexts.

The research project “Paths to Modernity” should be understood as a fundamental contribution to the future presentation of the 19th century in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. On the one hand, the collaboration of all special collections with 19th-century holdings allows the museum to select thematic units from existing holdings; on the other, the use of the exhibition galleries within conservation restrictions, as well as the mediation of the contents, will be optimized.

According to this goal, the project defines three primary missions: previously little considered holdings will be properly researched and made available; adequate lighting for as many objects as possible will be tried out; new ways to mediate between object and viewer will be developed for future museum visitors. This trinity of scientific object research, technical examination of works, and visitor-oriented display forms the basis for the innovative presentation of an era that in its labyrinthine and partly contradictory ways heralds the age of modernity.

The Planned Permanent Exhibition

With its interdepartmental, historico-cultural presentation, the future permanent exhibition on the 19th century incorporates the findings of as well as contributes to current museum research. It is planned to bring together objects from different spheres of life with works of the visual arts, crafts and so-called folk art, and to exhibit them in thematic units. First attempts in this direction were made in 2002 with the permanent exhibitions “Bürgerliche Kunst und Kultur des 19. Jahrhunderts” (“Bourgeois Art and Culture of the 19th Century”) and “Kleiderwechsel” (“Change of Dress”). The present project is preparing three thematic units that represent in an exemplary way the many innovations, contradictions and aberrations of the time: world’s fairs, media explosion and the culture of music.



The results of the research project will be shown in a separate special exhibition, planned for March to August 2014. This exhibition will not only introduce research findings regarding little known objects but will test their presentation and lighting as well as implement the newly developed forms of mediation. In this manner, the special exhibition provides crucial preliminary work for the planned permanent exhibition on the 19th century.

The results of the object analysis will be stored in the in-house document management system GNM-DMS, retrievable online and thus accessible to visitors and researchers for a long time.


Dr. Jutta Zander-Seidel, Projektleitung
Dr. Roland Prügel, Koordination
Dr. Markus Zepf
Frank Heydecke
Roland Damm
Frank Stolpmann
Dr. Barbara Rök
Evelyn Smoler M.A.
Dr. Stephanie Gropp (bis März 2013)


Fraunhofer-Institut für Silicatforschung
Rathgen-Forschungslabor der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

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